The impressive, but still sadly only part utilised, ‘Lewis’s Building’ on Ranelagh Street stands as a testimony to one of the city’s retail giants – Mr David Lewis.
The building continues to dominate the corner of Ranelagh/Renshaw Street, and ‘Dickie Lewis’ (or Liverpool Resurgent to give its full title) with his ‘uncompromising masculinity’ continues to raise glances and giggled conversations from tourists and locals alike. Although in most parts a relatively recent building, its history is entwined with that of the city since 1856.
What follows is a quick history time-line through pictures, and newspaper cuttings sourced via British Newspaper Archives.
“The ‘Ready Money Principle’ is the foundation. All goods are bought with, as well as sold for, ready money. The very smallest rate of profit is charged. The lowest price is marked upon each article in plain figures, from which no deviation is allowed.”
A fascinating book that has been invaluable in compiling this history – ‘Friends of the People – The Centenary History of Lewis’s’ – Asa Briggs. (1956 B. T. Batsford Ltd.)
1839 – David Levy arrives in Liverpool from London. Serves apprenticeship with Benjamin Hyam & Co., Lord St.
1856 – David Lewis (born David Levy) opens the first shop in his own name, at 44 Ranelagh Street. Gents and boys tailoring. This store would see continual expansion. Initially adds no.42, then nos.36-38, and then in 1877 no.40 which had been Jacob’s. Lewis would also marry Bertha Cohen in this year.
1859 – acquires No.54 Bold Street
1864 – expands into trading in women’s clothing at the Bold Street shop. Louis Cohen joins the firm, he would become a partner in 1871, and ultimately become head of the firm.
1867 – another advertising idea: The Lewis’s Pass Book (see advert in slide-show). Some 20million sold in the next ten years.
1878/79 – closes Bold Street shop, and buys out Bon Marché in Basnett Street. Paul de Jong, the Bold St, manager was instrumental in this.
1879 – adds Tobacco Department to Ranelagh St store.
1880 – another ‘advertising’ master-stroke; a re-issue of Gore’s Directory of 1790
1880 – the empire begins to expand: lease taken on 110 – 112 Market St., Manchester. Further expansions would follow in Birmingham, and Sheffield.
1882 – first issue of ‘Lewis’s Penny Readings’, again immensely popular. Again in 1888, and 1895.
1885 – 4th Dec, death of founder David Lewis. He is buried next to his wife Bertha (died Aug 1896) in Deane Road Cemetery, Kensington, Liverpool. His nephew Louis Cohen takes over the business. His untimely death at least meant he would not witness the disaster to soon follow……
1886 – The SS Great Eastern is used by Lewis’s to advertise on the River Mersey – https://atlantic-cable.com/Cableships/GreatEastern/
1886 – 24th December, the tragic fire severely damages the store, but it is soon trading again.
1887 – July/August, re-opening in Ranelagh St
1888 – as a result of the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal and the debate that followed, Lewis’s launch their ‘Prize Essay’ competition – ‘The Future of Liverpool’
1893 – expansion of Ranelagh St store
1893 – ‘The David Lewis Trust’ is established by Benn Wolfe Levy – eventually paid for David Lewis Hostel, Northern Hospital, and Central District Nursing Home. Now the David Lewis Association
1897 – a tea-room is added, soon expanded into a restaurant. Expansion into Lawton Street.
1902 – 22nd September, Lewis’s celebrate their Jubilee
1909 – extension
1910 – part demolition and rebuilding of Ranelagh St store commences
1914 – ditto
1920-23 – expansion and major rebuild of Ranelagh St premises. Includes a sub-basement being dug out, with 24,000 tons of earth being removed and the buildings underpinned
1921 – Lewis’s is again ahead of the field, with the introduction of Staff Welfare Departments in each store
1922 – death of Louis Cohen
1922 – the new Clothing Factory opens on Beach Road, Litherland
1923 – first introduction of own branded goods: ‘Standex’ and ‘Wilwer’
1924 – Lewis’s goes public. Harold Cohen becomes the first Chairman, a position he held until his death in 1936. Business model and practices begin to change.
Sometime between 1927 and 1938 the section of Lawton Street between Cropper Street and Renshaw Street was closed, and the store was expanded across.
1926 – W. Watson & Co are planning the Watson Building on Renshaw St.
1928 – Lewis’s Bank opened (In 1958 the bank was acquired by Martins, but was sold again to Lloyds in 1967)
1929 – expansion continues as ‘John Andersons’ Glasgow is acquired
1929 – The Watson Building opens – it may well have been built in conjunction with Lewis’s, with them taking the upper floors. Watson’s would leave the building in April 1939 (for Bold St).
1931 – In the year that the 75th Anniversary is celebrated, Lewis’s employ nearly 3,000 people in Liverpool, and a total of 9,385 nationally..
1932 – Leeds store opens.
1935 – Hanley store opens – take-over of McIlroy’s Stores
1936 – Leicester store opens
1936 – Lewis’s gain a share in S. Reece & Sons, Liverpool. Full control in 1938. Merseyside Dairies Ltd an off-shoot
1939 – Expansion into ‘Watson Building’ first week of June as Carpet Hall opens – 83rd Birthday Week. The building was at this point used mainly for admin staff.
1941 – 3rd May, the devastation of the Blitz all but destroys the store – only the Watson Building is relatively untouched. The sprinkler system is knocked out by the first bomb, and then oil incendiary bombs cause the greatest damage. Sadly many historical documents relating to Lewis’s are lost.
1941 – June, in a remarkable effort trading recommences
1945 – announcement that the store would be rebuilt
1947 – May, plans revealed
1948-56 – The bombed store is rebuilt in stages, architect Gerald de Courcy Fraser
1950 – February: the first part of the new store starts trading – part of the lower and ground floor at Central Station end. The whole of the ground floor was opened by the Christmas.
1950s – Paul McCartney of Beatles fame said to have worked at Lewis’s as a temp – John Lennon and Cynthia Powell would also meet under ‘Dickie Lewis’!
1951 – Selfridges, London acquired.
1955 – the second section of the rebuild is completed and opened for trading. The company now employs some 14,000 staff
1956 – Centenary Celebrations – Eve Lister cuts the Lewis’s birthday cake on 31st May. A Centenary Lunch is held at the Adelphi, with 140 employees representing the 16,000 then employed by the firm nationally.
1956 – 20th Nov, unveiling of the 18ft high ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ statue (Dickie Lewis), by Sir Jacob Epstein, is unveiled by F.J. Marquis, First Baron Woolton
1957 – Bristol store opens
1958 – the Ranelagh Street store is finally fully completed
1959 – a subway was created underneath Fairclough Street that linked Central Station with the basement of Lewis’s
1962 – Bon Marche sold to John Lewis
1964 – Blackpool store opens
1991 – company goes into administration – bought by Owen Owen.
2006 – plans for the £160million ‘Central Village’ are passed – new shopping and leisure venue including an Odeon cinema, restaurants, a boardwalk with water features and towers.
Merepark spent £3m developing 9-25 Bold Street, behind Central Station, as an entrance to the planned Central Village
2007 – the Ranelagh Street building is designated as Grade II Listed
“Department store, designed 1947, constructed late 1940s/early 1950s, by Gerald de Courcy Fraser, constructed by Fraser, Sons & Geary. Steel frame with Portland stone facades, brick to rear. Stripped Classical style. Statue and reliefs to main entrance by Sir Jacob Epstein. Replaced earlier store largely destroyed during WWII. Adjacent Watson Building incorporated into earlier store retains early C20 facade.”
2007 – the company goes into liquidation – taken over by Vergo Retail Ltd
2010 – Lewis’s finally closes its doors after some 154 years
2013 – Adagio Hotel opens in part of the building
2013 – Central Village MSCP opens
2015 – Pure Gym open
2015-17 – Watson Building converted into offices
2017/18 – The Department opens with an entrance on Renshaw Street – over 35,000 sq ft of Grade A office space over five floors
2018 – ‘Central Village Post Office’ opens in basement of Renshaw St elevation
2020 – Adgio Hotel announces expansion plans
A few more Links/reading…..
An image from 1911 here that you can zoom into for great detail: A view looking south-west from the 5th floor of the extension to the Adelphi Hotel towards Lewis’ department story and Liverpool Central Station: